The Steelers travel to Cleveland for a vital matchup, as they fight to make the playoffs. But just as important as the matchup with the Browns is the battle 173 miles away between the Jets Bills in Buffalo. While their fate rests in Rex Ryan's hands, the Steelers need to keep laser focus on their division foe. Here are five key matchups that will most likely shape the outcome of the game.
Key Matchup # 1
WR Antonio Brown vs CB #26 Pierre Desir
Analysis: Brown is seven catches and 52 yards shy of breaking his team records, but records are secondary to making the playoffs. AB has had huge games in big wins this season and Sunday's game is crucial for the Steelers.
With Joe Haden and Tramon Williams on the shelf due to concussions, Desir is the man most likely to draw the short straw that is Brown. K'Waun Williams may also be in the mix, but is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury. With no interceptions and only seven pass-defenses, this duo may not be a match for the talents of Brown.
Key Matchup # 2
QB Ben Roethlisberger vs #31 SS Donte Whitner and FS #39 Tashaun Gipson
Analysis: Roethlisberger looked terrible against the Ravens last Sunday. Although the stat sheet charged Ben with only two interceptions, Jimmy Smith was a drop and a neutral-zone infraction away from getting the hat trick against the Steeler QB. With the playoffs on the line, #7 needs to continue to "go for it" but avoid the mental lapses that lead to bad throws and pickoffs.
On the other side of the ball roams two Pro-Bowlers at safety, Whitner and Gipson. Although the pair only has two interceptions on the season, the duo patrolling the outfield against a gunslinger like Roethlisberger could prove dangerous for the Steelers.
Key Matchup # 3
OLB Jarvis Jones and OLB James Harrison vs #73 LT Joe Thomas
Analysis: As an eight-time selection to the Pro Bowl, Thomas has been a stalwart at OT for the Browns since being selected third overall in 2007. As an unpenetrable protector for the carousel of quarterbacks in Cleveland, Thomas has been one of the league's finest protecting the blindside.
Against the Steelers in November, Thomas was out due to injury as the Steelers (minus Harrison also) racked up five sacks. The ROLB rotation of Harrison/Jones have tallied five and two sacks respectively in 2015 and Harrison has a history of success against the Great Wall of Thomas.
Austin Davis can be effective if he has time to throw and is not running for his life. This matchup is integral in the success of the Browns passing game against a suspect secondary.
Key Matchup # 4
RB Deangelo Williams vs #56 ILB Karlos Dansby
Analysis: Williams is 101 yards away from his third 1,000-yard season and the Steelers linemen want to get him there. Deangelo was the lone bright-spot for the Steelers offense against Baltimore with his fourth multi-score game of 2015. His 11 touchdowns on the year make him another big weapon in a full arsenal of an offense and will continue to be relied upon.
Dansby, 102 tackles and two forced-fumbles, is the leading tackler on a defense that ranks last against the run. Controlling the ground game of the Steelers is paramount for Dansby and the Browns. Doing so would force the Steelers to go to the air more, where they have been susceptible to throwing interceptions as of late.
Key Matchup #5
ILB Ryan Shazier vs #82 TE Gary Barnidge
Analysis: Barnidge is having a career year in his eighth season as a professional and is five receptions shy of doubling his career total of 38. The TE is also 23 yards away from 1,000 yards.
Shazier has good speed and is one to shadow the tight end. For a defense that has struggled against the best at the TE position, corralling Barnidge and his nine TDs is essential for victory.
Other Notable Matchups
C Cody Wallace vs #71 NT Danny Shelton
DE Cam Heyward vs #34 RB Isaiah Crowell and #29 Duke Johnson
Steelers CB Rotation vs #7 QB Austin Davis